Hamas refused to even contemplate a cease-fire in the war it provoked with Israel more than a week ago, and now Israel has begun to widen its area of operations. Overnight, the IDF sent out evacuation notices to more than 100,000 residents in order to prevent collateral civilian deaths, and stepped up the rate of aerial attacks. ABC News reports this morning that the end of the unilateral cease fire has put the possibility of a ground invasion back in play, and perhaps strengthened Israel politically for that option:
Before today’s airstrikes, tens of thousands of residents in Gaza received phone calls and leaflets advising them to evacuate their homes.
“The evacuation is for your own safety,” the leaflets read. “You should not return to the premises until further notice. Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.”
The latest Israeli barrage comes one day after Israel’s Cabinet approved a cease-fire measure proposed by Egypt. But after Hamas rejected the terms of the cease-fire and fired 47 rockets at Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unleashed his military again.
“Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision,” Netanyahu said.
Hamas “needs something to save face with the people,” one anchor remarks at the end, and Aaron Katersky notes correctly that life in Gaza is miserable under the blockade, imposed by both Israel and Egypt. The blockade, however, was imposed in reaction to Hamas; it did not immediately get imposed after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Hamas (and Islamic Jihad) immediately began using the enclave as a launching pad for terrorist attacks, soon including the very rocket launches that started this current conflict and others in between. That doesn’t make life under the blockade any less miserable for ordinary Gazans, but they chose Hamas as their leadership, and neither Egypt or Israel wants to open their borders with Gaza while a terrorist network is their chosen government. At this point, neither Israel nor Egypt have any interest in giving Hamas an opportunity to “save face,” either.
While Israel is keeping a potential ground offensive very much on the table, they’re not anxious to start one, either. A ground offensive would involve urban warfare, which would mean a lot of civilian casualties, and a not-inconsiderable number of Israeli casualties and POWs, too. The political calculus would begin to change, certainly abroad and probably at home, too, once the escalation in casualties on both sides began to be obvious. Plus, the problem for Israel is that they don’t really want to reoccupy Gaza. The best outcome would be for Gazans to eject Hamas, and a ground invasion isn’t going to incentivize them to do so when Hamas is the only organized force capable of putting up even a modicum of a defense. Israel is better off targeting command-and-control assets and conducting limited commando raids to break down Hamas’ infrastructure and leadership while leaving as much of the rest of Gaza alone as possible.
The White House finds itself without its customary leverage to restrain the Israelis, the Washington Post reports, thanks to Hamas:
Israeli officials, in a series of television interviews, statements and social-media venues, said Tuesday that Hamas’s rejection of a cease-fire offervalidated the force it has used over eight days of conflict and made legitimate their argument for a wider military effort.
The Obama administration appeared to accept that rationale, blaming the armed Islamist movement in Gaza for missing an opportunity to end the eight-day aerial assault and avoid a ground invasion. But if the recent past is any guide, the administration will soon be under pressure from European and Arab allies to call on Israel to end the military operation.
Doing so now would be diplomatically delicate for the administration. Hamas rejected the Egyptian-negotiated cease-fire offer and continued to fire rockets into Israel on Tuesday, claiming the first Israeli life in the most recent conflict.
But a broader Israeli operation and an attendant spike in Palestinian casualties could quickly add pressure on the Obama administration to demand an end to the assault, whether heeded or not by an Israeli government with a historically uneasy relationship with President Obama.
Until Hamas is willing to stop firing rockets at Israel — now more than 1200 since Israel began responding last week — there is no chance for a cease fire anyway. The US would do better to quietly try using its leverage with Arab nations to get Hamas to meet with the Egyptians in Cairo to shut down the rockets rather than cajole Israel in public to stop responding to them. So far, the Obama administration has been doing a pretty good job of focusing on the provocation rather than the response, with John Kerry and Josh Earnest focusing their public ire on Hamas. If Israel launches a ground offensive, though, expect that to change.